When it comes to pro football, things are so much simpler on the North
Things are much more complicated in Columbus. Nobody from Columbus is from Columbus. Even the city's namesake was from Italy. And he sailed under the Spanish flag. And he never even set foot in Columbus. (The city, not himself.)
This type of identity crisis manifests itself today when it comes to the NFL. Thanks to an enormous university and a good job market, people from even the most undesirable NFL locales end up settling in Columbus. Ohio State imports Pittsburghers by the thousands for evolutionary research; you can barely order a value meal without some Cincituckian bungling your change.
But it goes well beyond that. One of my friends is from Minnesota, so she is a Vikings fan. (I am not kidding that her sister always refers to the Packers as "Wisconsin.") Another one of my friends is from Kansas City, so she is a Chiefs fan. She was with me at the Dwayne Rudd game, and I still hear about it to this day. Her idea of winning any argument with me is saying, "At least I've been to a World Series parade." I also personally know fans of the Panthers, Dolphins, Cowboys, Eagles, Jets, Bills, Colts, Broncos, Redskins, Bears, Lions, Saints, and Wisconsin Packers. I don't even know that many people, yet over half the league is accounted for.
The Big Three, of course, are the Browns, Bengals, and Steelers. From what I was told when I first came here in 1996, Columbus has traditionally been a Browns and Reds town. Back when I first arrived, the Browns were by far the most popular pro team in Columbus despite the fact that they did not technically exist. Wait, maybe they technically DID exist, but it was only in some closet in Berea that Bill Futterer had the keys to. Either way, the imaginary Browns were far more popular than the real Bengals. At the time, Mike Brown admitted he wasn't even going to attempt making any inroads in the Columbus market while the Browns were gone, figuring it was a lost cause. If any man could be considered an expert on the ins and outs of lost causes, it was Mike Brown.
Once the Browns came back, Columbus settled into a nice weekly groove on autumn Sundays -- the Browns were on local TV, the sports bars were overrun with Yellow-Toweled Yinzers, and Bengals fans did yard work or went shopping with their wives. This is what I like to refer to as The Perfect System™.
The Perfect System™ served Columbus well until last year, when the popularity of the Bengals suddenly skyrocketed for some unquantifiable reason. These die-hard fans started demanding that Cincinnati's games be broadcast on local TV, especially for important games, like if those hated Houston Oilers came to town for a big AFC Central showdown. So they got some games on TV. And even that didn't satisfy them at first, since it took them a couple of weeks to learn that that the AFC games were on CBS now instead of NBC. And even THEN they still complained that Madden and Summerall never did Bengals games. Like any time-traveler, it took awhile for these folks to get acclimated in "the future."
But as an exciting Bengals team marched to the division title, viewership picked up, meaning televised Browns games became a relic of the past, just like most anything else good about the Browns.
And then the Steelers won the Super Bowl. Trust me…that sucked for everyone.
So to recap:
- The Browns are rarely on TV.
- I am surrounded by bandwagon Bengals fans.
- Yinzers have turned their obnoxiousness up to 11. (Note: If they were already at 11, then it's a 12 now. Maybe a 13.)
I never thought that Columbus would become a Bengals town, and maybe it's really not, but I am no longer so naïve as to think it can't happen. Just look at baseball. Long a Reds town, the Indians took over Columbus in the 90s and have never relinquished their upper hand. Before starting their own network this year, the Indians were seen every night on Fox Sports Ohio while the Reds were banished to the public access channel. Since the only kind of "public access" the NFL approves of is to the government's tax coffers, Browns fans aren't afforded the opportunity to watch their team's games televised amidst city council meetings and church bake sales.
The only way the Browns can reclaim Columbus and save us normal folks is to start winning again, so I am not overly optimistic about The Perfect System™ being restored any time soon, if ever.
But enough of that depressing topic, Barry. Here are a few other notes about people down here:
- One of the fun things to do is approach someone in a brand new Who Dey t-shirt and then list the teams the Bengals have lost to. So you just walk right up and say, "New England, Tampa, Atlanta, Baltimore, and San Diego." Sometimes they get it right away, sometimes it takes them a second. Two weeks ago I got a "we kicked Cleveland's ass" response, which I helpfully followed up by saying, "Congratulations. Subtracting that win, you're 4-5 against real NFL teams. No wonder you're so proud." (Update: "Subtracting those wins, you're 5-5 against real NFL teams. No wonder you're so proud.")
- I work with a woman who wore a Steelers jersey one Friday. I made some sort of wisecrack, but then she informed me that she is also a Browns fan. I then inquired to see if the jersey was some sort of punishment for losing a bet, and she said no, she's also a Steelers fan. She roots for the Browns and Steelers, and when they play, she roots for the Browns. Seriously. A Browns/Steelers fan. And here I thought John Madden's "Turducken" was the weirdest mutation in pro football.
- I also work with a Bengals/Steelers fan. Oh, and an Indians/Steelers fan, meaning we talk to each other six months out of the year.
- Another Steeler-fan co-worker once asked me when I started to follow the Browns, or if I was a born loser. I patiently explained that nobody in their right mind CHOOSES to root for the Browns. I was simply born this way, and I am proud of it. She then told me she got into the Steelers through her husband and his family. She said, and I quote, "Love of the Steelers is just inbred into everyone in his family." She tried to correct herself by saying she meant "ingrained", but it was too late. The truth was already out there.
- Two of my best friends down here are legit Bengals fans. My one friend Rob even went to Browns Stadium with me and sat through a 34-17 Bengals thumping. (The 99-yard Garcia-to-Davis game.) Also, while watching the first game of the Crennel Era with me, Rob casually turned to me and said, "Romeo must diet." Classic. My other buddy Flick is far more temperamental about his Bengals. When Chris Henry declined to make an attempt on Carson Palmer's long pass late in their loss at Baltimore, Flick e-mailed me to say, "Henry has to make a play on that ball. He either needs to jump for it or at least pull a gun." One of the downsides to the Bengals always being on TV is that I no longer get to hear Flick rail against Bengals radio analyst Dave Lapham for using words like "collisioned" on the air. (As in, "Much to Braylon Edwards' dismay, Brian Russell really collisioned Chad Johnson on that play.")
Here are two more quick football notes:
- I am really torn on the state title game. I normally cheer for North Coast
teams to pummel the rest of the state, but being a former
Euclid player, I am having a tough time getting behind Mentor. Oddly enough, Davidson is the closest major high school to my current residence. I couldn't care less about Davidson,
but it seems like a sign that I should root for Mentor to get crushed like they did when we
played them for the GCC title back in my day.
- Speaking of crushed, so much for my Ohio Bobcats winning the MAC. Deep down, I knew it was too much to ask for one of my teams to win a title. What a perfect time for all of the QBs to re-injure themselves, huh? Three QBs in one game! It was like the Bobcats suddenly morphed into the 1988 Browns. Maybe OU would have come back and won if only Don Strock had some college eligibility left.
Until next week,
PS- I only mentioned Braylon Edwards once in this entire thing.